Following a six-week introduction to the 2023 season held in the sunshine of Australia, the Middle East, South America, and southern Europe, the grit and grime of the Belgian racing season began with a bang at Opening Weekend.
The men’s and women’s pelotons hit the cobbles and hills of Flanders hard at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, plus the women’s Omloop and Omloop van het Hageland, heralding the start of spring Classics season and laying down markers ahead of the coming weeks of racing in Belgium and northern France.
As ever, there’s plenty to talk about after four action-filled races packed into two days. We saw the domination of SD Worx and Jumbo-Visma, the disappointment of Soudal-QuickStep, the rise of Arnaud De Lie, and as many tech innovations as ever.
While the results – both good and bad – always come with the caveat of the biggest races lying in the weeks ahead, the races of Opening Weekend are nevertheless major meets in their own right and kick off the narratives that will develop through to the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
Here, Daniel Ostanek, our man on the cold wind-swept ground in Belgium gives us his main takeaways from the weekend’s racing.
Jumbo-Visma: the new QuickStep?
Last year, we wrote that the Dutch squad had arrived as a leading Classics force after Wout van Aert’s solo Omloop Het Nieuwsblad win while his teammates were strong and on the front foot across both days.
If they had already arrived as a force, then what happened this time around amounted to a show of total domination. Two races, two wins, and then a second and third place to go with it.
Few expected Jumbo-Visma to turn up and control Omloop Het Nieuwsblad as they did, first attacking with 105km left to run and later forcing what turned out to be the winning split on the Molenberg.
Race winner Dylan van Baarle plus Christophe Laporte, Tiesj Benoot, Jan Tratnik, and Nathan Van Hooydonck were the key men in yellow on Saturday and at Kuurne it was the same again, even if the podium duo were different.
Again, the attacking started early at 84km from the line, and again multiple Jumbo men made the winning split, with Benoot and Van Hooydonck putting on a racing masterclass in the final 5km to come out on top from the leading group of five.
It’s true that Opening Weekend is a long way from the…
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